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Nemo Judex In Causa Sua – An Analysis

Introduction

Legal maxims are well-established legal ideas which are usually expressed in Latin form to guide courts around the world in applying the laws in a fair and equitable manner to resolve matters before them. “NEMO JUDEX IN CAUSA SUA” is one of the widely used legal maxims whose literal meaning is ‘no one should be a judge in his own case’.[1] Its origin is dated back to the 17th century and Sir Edward Coke is credited with coining the phrase.[2]

Analysis

Before delving into the interpretation of the legal maxim ‘NEMO JUDEX IN CAUSA SUA,’ it is critical to understand the foundational element of it, that is Natural Justice.

1. Natural Justice

Natural justice is a clear and unambiguous justice that ensures that all litigants have access to the fundamental idea of justice during court proceedings to protect them against oppression and unfairness.[3] In plainer terms, it guarantees that judgments should be unbiased, translucent and should be based on conclusive proof.

So the Latin phrase ‘NEMO JUDEX IN CASUA SUA’ follows the principle of natural justice because the legal maxim means that “no one should be a judge in his own case’. As stated above, natural justice is all about impartiality, equality, and equity. Thus, it is referred to as a bias prevention rule. Therefore, the aforementioned maxim exemplifies the principle of natural justice that no one can evaluate a matter in which they have a personal stake in order to ensure fairness in the judgement. So, to bring an objective conclusion that is to make a judgment-free of bias, this maxim is widely used by courts to hear arguments from both sides and to act justly. Even if there is no bias, still this maxim needs to be followed to any impression of injustice since it appears to be biased at first glance and justice should be done not only but also perceived to be done.[4] To understand this let’s look at an illustration.

Illustration

A case is presented before a person in which he has a personal interest, and he is allowed to act as a judge and determine his own case. The person will then act in his own best interests and decide the case prejudicially. Thus, the conclusion would be subject to criticism and would be unfair. Therefore, a person should not be permitted to function as a judge in a case in which he or she is directly or indirectly involved.

Case Law

A case of “AK Kraipak vs Union of India” can be taken into account while understanding this.[5] In that case, the authority was given to the central government to recruit officials who were already in the state’s forest department to the newly formed Indian forest service. The acting chief conservator of the forest of the state of Jammu and Kashmir was appointed as the chairman of the special selection board, with UPSC members making the final selections. It’s worth noting that the acting chief conservator was naquishbund, who was chosen [6]despite the seniority of the judges who preceded before him. [7]Also, he was one of the candidates seeking to be selected to Indian forest services. The task of the selection board was to give the names of the potential members to the UPSC for final selection and they recommended the name of naquishbund. The list got accepted by the members of UPSC and hence he tops the list of selected candidates. However, interested parties filed a lawsuit in court, alleging that the selections were made in violation of Articles 14 and 16 of the constitution, as well as the principle of natural justice.

Judgement

The Supreme Court held that by appointing Naquishband to the selection board, the core concept of “nemo judex in causa sua” was broken. Because firstly he was a member of the selection board, even though he didn’t participate in the discussions happening in relation to his nomination, the fact that he held the position of chairman in the selection committee had a substantial impact on the selection board’s judgments. Secondly, he was present at the time of the compilation of selected applicants in order of preference and he deliberated when his adversaries’ claims, namely those superseding it, were taken into account. The court concluded that and that the judgement reached was contrary to the natural justice principles and was biased. [8]

Now it is very important to know what exactly bias is to analyze the above-mentioned legal maxim further.

2. Bias

Bias is a prior opinion which is formed in a person’s mind that precludes that person from evaluating data in a fair and objective manner. [9]To better understand this let’s look at an illustration.

Illustration

If a matter is brought to a judge and he has a mental attitude toward a petitioner, it can be observed that the judge is biased, preventing him from making a fair decision. As a result, the litigant’s right to a fair trial is violated.

It isn’t necessary that bias will only be of a nature where there is a personal or professional friendliness and animosity with the parties, and the individual strives to make favorable decisions for his friends and family while doing the opposite for rivals, can be of many types. According to numerous court judgments, it can be seen that there can be a pecuniary bias where the individual functioning as a judge has a financial interest in the case matter or a situation where the judge is a subject matter to the given scenario, or the person have some preconceived notions about the parties present before him.[10]

In the “Mohd Yunus Kahn vs State of Uttar Pradesh” case, A disciplinary procedure was begun against the appellant, a police constable, for being absent for 25 minutes from his duties as a guard.[11] The disciplinary authority found him guilty and when the appellant objected, they increased his punishment. The appellant filed a lawsuit in court, and the court ruled that the individual who testified before the disciplinary committee could not punish the appellant or act as an inquiry officer, which the disciplinary authority did in this case. Thus, nemo judex in causa sua must rule, as a person should not adjudicate a case in which he or she has been involved in any way and a person acting as a witness is not allowed to vouch for the truthfulness of his or her own testimony.[12]

Hence, even if the person is not genuinely biased, the circumstances can create a realistic apprehension in people’s minds that bias will influence the judgement as was noted in the above case.

3. Recusal of Judges

To bring legitimacy in the judgments of courts, and to further analyze the legal maxim it is important to understand the concept of “judges’ recusal from the benches”. Recusal means dismissal hence the term above refers to judges eliminating themselves from a case where they may have a potential conflict of interest. [13]They do so to ensure impartiality in the courtroom and to adhere to the ethical principles that a judge must follow in order to dispense justice properly. However, it is entirely up to a judge to decide whether to proceed with the case or disqualify himself if he believes he will be unable to serve justice.

It was observed in the case of “Indore Department Authority vs Manohar Lal”, that Justice Arun Mishra [14]refused to disqualify himself from the 5-judge bench. The bench was formed to reexamine this land acquisition matter, which had already received two verdicts, one of which was handed down by Justice Arun Mishra in 2018 and caused a lot of confusion at that time. So, he was asked to recuse himself, but he refused, claiming that doing so would jeopardize the independence of the judiciary and was only a pretext for forum shopping which means that litigants are re-filing their legal cases in the court in the hopes of receiving a favorable judgment.[15]

The application of recusal of judges in regard to the legal maxim “NEMO JUDEX IN CAUSA SUA” is a crucial concept, particularly in the countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. However, there is no similar statute in India that establishes these principles and ensures that courtrooms are unbiased. Judges and other adjudicatory authorities, on the other hand, have always been urged to follow impartiality rules by the courts. Also, Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian constitutions which state, ‘equality before the law’ and ‘protection of life and personal liberty’ respectively outlines that judges must act fairly and impartially. [16]

In India, as seen in the well-known “Ayodhya” case, the judge ignored the fact that he had previously appeared in a criminal case linked to the current issue and nonetheless served on the constitution bench. [17]Later, he recused himself from the bench when the parties brought to his attention that he had appeared as a lawyer in a criminal matter pertaining to the former UP CM Kalyan Singh in relation to the case.

Conclusion

“Nemo judex in causa sua” is a principle of natural justice and if violated it leads to the violation of the right to equality as well. All the countries across the globe have a judicial system that administers justice and has an influence on the lives of its residents and India is no exception. The world’s longest constitution of India is committed to imparting justice fairly and the protection of vulnerable individuals is its priority. However, the judge’s recusal which gives justice to the principle of nemo judex in causa sua does not, however, have explicit laws to address the issue of unfairness and bias. So in order to act ethically and dispense justice more smoothly and impartially, it is important to uphold the principle of natural justice which is nemo judex in causa sua by enacting a statute regarding the recusal of judges. It would help in identifying the bias if any and the degree of it to ensure a fair trial. It would aid in identifying any bias, as well as the degree to which it exists, in order to ensure a fair trial. However, the statute should take into account the judiciary’s freedom and independence and not enact legislation that infringes on it.

[1] Ayush Verma ‘all you need to know about the principle of natural justice’ https://blog.ipleaders.in/all-you-need-know-about-principles-natural-justice/ accessed 31st September 2021

[2] Team ‘nemo judex in causa sua’ < https://lawtimesjournal.in/nemo-judex-in-causa-sua/> accessed on 31st September 2021

[3] Laskit ‘concept of natural justice’ https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-1549-concept-of-natural-justice.html accessed on 31st September 2021

[4] Ibid

[5] A. K. Kraipak & Ors. Etc vs Union Of India & Ors on 29 April, 1969 https://indiankanoon.org/doc/639803/

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Laskit ‘concept of natural justice’ https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-1549-concept-of-natural-justice.html accessed on 31st September 2021

[10] Laskit ‘concept of natural justice’ https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-1549-concept-of-natural-justice.html accessed on 31st September 2021

[11] B Chauhan ‘ Mohd. Yunus Khan vs State Of U.P.& Ors on 28 September 2010’ https://indiankanoon.org/doc/105592/ accessed on 1st September 2021

[12] Ibid

[13] Aryika dadhwal ‘ withdrawal of judges in the light of the principle of nemo judex in causa sua: an analysis’ < https://libertatem.in/government/withdrawal-of-judges-in-light-of-the-principle-of-nemo-judex-in-causa-sua-an-analysis/> accessed on 1st September 2021

[14] Arun Mishra ‘ Indore Development Authority vs Manoharlal And Ors. Etc. on 6 March 2020’ < https://indiankanoon.org/doc/49625991/> accessed on 1st September 2021

[15] Ibid

[16] Aryika dadhwal ‘ withdrawal of judges in the light of the principle of nemo judex in causa sua: an analysis’ < https://libertatem.in/government/withdrawal-of-judges-in-light-of-the-principle-of-nemo-judex-in-causa-sua-an-analysis/> accessed on 1st September 2021

[17] Ayush Verma ‘all you need to know about the principle of natural justice’ < https://blog.ipleaders.in/all-you-need-know-about-principles-natural-justice/> accessed on 1st September 2021

This article has been written by Ridhi Jain, 2nd Year BA-LLB student at National Law University, Delhi.

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